ZNAMENSKOYE, Russia – Russian forces detained several relatives of a Chechen rebel leader during the height of last week's school hostage standoff, family members said.
Shirvani Semiyev, brother-in-law of Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov (search), was among what he estimated to be 50 people taken to the Russian military headquarters at Khankala, outside Grozny, on Friday and held for two days — the men and boys blindfolded, hands tied behind their backs, and forced to kneel on cold stone.
"They loaded my whole family and my brother's family ... into the truck. We were 13 in all — including women and children," he said Monday.
All were relatives of Maskhadov and another rebel leader, Shamil Basayev (search), whom Russian authorities have accused of organizing last week's school hostage seizure in southern Russia.
A military officer questioned Semiyev, demanding to know where Maskhadov was.
"He's somewhere in the mountains, the forests, and I'm here, in the lowlands," Semiyev said he'd replied. "How could he get to me, through all those checkpoints?"
Then he was asked about his attitude to the school seizure — and whether he would be willing to serve as a mediator with the attackers.
"I'd have gone if I'd had any authority and the terrorists would listen to me," he said. "They would have shot me right away..."
On Saturday night, Semiyev said, a doctor came to the detainees and asked if they needed medical care. Then a colonel came, "said there had been a mistake, and that we would be put on a helicopter for home," Semiyev said. "And we were actually brought home by helicopter."
In an official statement cited by the pro-Kremlin strana.ru Web site, the Russian Federal Security Service spokesman for Russian forces in Chechnya (search), Maj. Gen. Ilya Shabalkin, said federal forces had taken action to protect the rebel leaders' relatives from vigilante attempts at revenge for the school tragedy.
Militants seized the school in Beslan, in southern Russia, on Sept. 1, a day after a suicide bombing in Moscow killed 10 people and just over a week after two Russian passenger planes crashed following explosions and killed all 90 people aboard — attacks authorities suspect were linked to the war in Chechnya.